WSIB: combating COVID-19 with rapid digitalisation

WSIB: combating COVID-19 with rapid digitalisation

Samantha Liscio, Chief Technology & Innovation Officer at WSIB, discusses industry trends, digital transformation and the impact of COVID-19...

Within the insurance industry, Samantha Liscio, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) has seen the sector mirror what the organisation itself is experiencing internally. “It's that customer focus,” says Liscio. “Our customers want to be able to deal with us anytime, anywhere and however they want, so we need to ensure that our products and services support that. This trend is one of six key drivers for our 2020 IT strategy at WSIB, to develop new channels and a sustainable operating model that are digitally focused as well as digitalising our core services and developing our work-from-home operations. The other five elements of our IT strategy include business intelligence and analytics, cyber and digital security, modernising applications, providing digital infrastructure and modernising our operating models, all with the customer experience in mind.”

Expanding on the industry trends emerging within insurance, Liscio explains that rapid digitalisation is posing challenges for insurance companies. “Insurance companies tend to be older companies that have been around a long time and have been built on a foundation of processes developed over decades, sometimes centuries, which can be longstanding and hard to change. These longstanding business models however do need to change to be flexible and adaptable if they are to continue to meet customer expectations.”

When it comes to its own IT strategy, Liscio explains that WSIB adopts an agile approach for rapid innovation which encompases three key areas working together to develop a minimum viable product (MVP). “These key areas include service design with a human centered design approach, followed by product owners identifying friction points. Finally the DevsOp group takes a scrum based approach to developing MVPs to target customer pain points. With this ‘digital factory’ approach you can get about 80% of those immediate needs met within the first MVP. Before, that would have taken us more than a year to develop a solution, by gathering requirements, working on those, developing, testing, and then putting into production. With our new approach we have been able to bring projects live within three months of starting an MVP which immediately addresses the key customer pain points, and provides a base for opportunities to build additional functionality incrementally. This approach has become our foundation for the future.”

Many of WSIB’s new digital products are the outcome of this approach, which it has engaged with key partners for its agile-based solution development. “Within the last few months, partners such as Wipro and others have helped us develop a new service that provides secure digital access to claims information for injured workers. TCS - Tata consulting services – is our strategic partner and have been instrumental in transforming our end-to-end quality assurance process with industry best practices and innovations in the area of Automation, AI, Cloud Testing and Test Data Management, which has meant that we've eliminated 95% of the defects from our projects by implementing the optimized approach and methodology that TCS has helped us with. In addition to this we are also looking into opportunities to harness RPA, within our operations which is also something that we are working on with TCS.”

As part of the company’s digital strategy to drive digitalisation in the heart of its operations, Liscio details the company's adoption of cloud, internet of things (IoT) and AI-enabled analytics.


“For the WSIB, cloud is an opportunity to significantly accelerate the delivery of value, both to our internal business and to our end customers. From an IT perspective, cloud deployments can help to reduce risk. It's complicated and expensive to host, deploy and maintain software that's at the core of your business, and so increasingly big vendors offer those types of services better than we can ourselves. They can help us to use cloud native capabilities and drive innovations. WSIB’s cloud strategy focuses on the implementation of a hybrid cloud service model using both public and private cloud, with partners such as Microsoft Azure and IBM. As a result we have a specific software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution approach that's aligned to our application strategy. We also have database and integration-as-a-service offerings and we are introducing other platform-as-a-service capabilities and providing Windows and Linux virtual machines as an infrastructure-as-a-service offering. This is all underpinned by a restructured network architecture and cloud management platform.

We've been thinking very carefully about what our infrastructure needs to look like when it comes to the cloud and we are now underway with our key partners.”

Internet of things (IoT)

“With the internet of things (IoT), it's an interesting point on our innovation radar right now. There are so many opportunities for IoT in the worker's compensation space, especially as it relates to health and safety. So our innovation lab is exploring things like connected devices that can detect fatigue. Devices that can be connected to the wearer or the dashboard of a truck - or both - that can detect if they're falling asleep and can alert them. We’re also looking at things like proper posture and biomechanics which are especially important in the construction industry where people are lifting and bending and moving. Having those kinds of devices that can be connected to people or the surroundings to provide real-time feedback rather than corrective action after, this is something really interesting that we are working on in the lab relating to IoT.”

AI enabled Analytics

“On the analytics side, being an insurance organisation, WSIB relies on predictive analytics for things like risk scoring, case based reserving, claims segmentation models, anomaly detection and text mining. As a result, business intelligence and analytics is a key pillar for our IT strategy and we're investing in the capabilities, the tools and the backend infrastructure to be able to make decisions better and faster. Currently we extricate data from various data marts to create diagnostic and predictive models. We're in the progress of creating a central data store and intend to leverage in-database analytics that will allow us to execute extensive analytical workloads directly against our data. That's going to be really important to us in increasing our decision making speed.”


While innovations are revolutionising the insurance industry, it is important to remember that progress comes with challenges, in particular cybersecurity. “At WSIB we operate a 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year security operation center,” comments Liscio. “We keep track of all of the security records we receive, these are essentially all of the potential hits on our perimeter from a security perspective, and between January and September last year we had more than 85 billion security records. Of those 85 billion we sent 19 billion to our security information event monitoring system for a second look to determine if they are events that need to be monitored, events that are relevant, events that are possible threats or events that become incidents. So in total that 85 billion was whittled down to roughly 150 incidents requiring action.” In order to combat these potential threats, WSIB has a cybersecurity strategy and strong governance in place. “We've assessed our main maturity across security and we've taken an inventory of all of our critical data and assets, so we know where our crown jewels are and how those are protected and we've applied the appropriate controls to those protections. We also conduct regular testing via the likes of audits and penetration testing, as well as monthly vulnerability assessments.” In addition to harnessing technology to maintain security, WSIB has also established a breach response, as well as awareness and training programs in place, cyber security intelligence and cyber security insurance.”

The impact of COVID-19

“When the emergency was declared in Ontario in the middle of March, the WSIB saw its remote workforce increase from about 2% to more than 99% of the workforce in the space of a few weeks. With that sudden shift to over 4,000 employees working from home, a host of issues can arise, from inadequate video conferencing capabilities due to connectivity at the employee's homes or additional challenges in maintaining security of confidential information outside the office. But we've been able to effectively direct the company on how best to work remotely using our virtual private network which is robust and secure. We also have multi factor authentication to ensure secure logins so that those working from home can connect to the WSIB systems and our corporate collaboration tools such as Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Teams and OneDrive, as well as encrypting all hard drives so that we could protect and manage data remotely.”

In addition to these changes, Liscio explains that provisions have also been made for specific job functions such as call centers. “You can imagine that within a large company like WSIB there is a large call center and our service reps need to be able to answer the phone. So even though they're at home, they still need to be in that call center environment. To achieve this we turned the WSIB computers into soft phones, rolling out on-screen dial pads to place and control calls from the desktop. In addition we have deployed more than 400 mobile devices in a couple of weeks since the state of emergency, so that end users working from home could maintain critical business services.”

Without the support of its partners, Liscio emphasises that “would not have been able to get more than 4,000 people productively working from home within a few weeks without the support of our partners, especially CGI and RCI Rogers who helped us expedite equipment provisioning across their supply chain and provide after-hours support for our IT and front-line staff.”

While this has been a huge change for WSIB, Liscio explains that now they are effectively and productively work from home, “the new normal for us will be one where we probably won't be returning to our offices in the same way as we worked before and things like phones and desktop computers will be retired and laptops and cell phones will be the new standard technology, providing that kind of flexibility for mobile work. We are also quickly digitising hard copy mail and things like access requests. When our customers ask for access to their file, we would typically go find all of the paper, scan all of that paper and then send them boxes of paper. With digitised access requests we can share that information back with them through encrypted email, making the need to do these kinds of paper-based processes again obsolete. In addition we are pivoting to accelerate the delivery of online services for people with claims, as well as identify additional rapid-fire digital transformations and we have adopted an electronic signature solution to ensure we can still procure, approve and authorise things in a virtual way.

“Looking ahead, I see the key drivers for change in the InsurTech sector and for the WSIB being very similar. Post COVID-19 there will be changes in the workforce resulting in revenue changes, premium deferrals, lower interest rates, volatile investments. Guided by our digital strategy, the WSIB will respond by: Creating new digital channels and digitizing our core services, fully implementing a sustainable IT operating model to support the new digital WSIB and continuing to support remote and flexible work.”

Samantha Liscio